A fresh perspective

Kim CousinsCountryman

Good food and old fashioned preparation is a way of life for Guy Jeffreys, head chef at Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale.

In the garden, you'll find Guy and his staff hand-picking vegetables each morning before putting together a daily menu based on what's fresh and ready to eat.

The on-site vegetable garden covers more than an acre and Guy estimates he feeds around 250 people a week. His vegetable bill - he orders in potatoes, onions and a bit of celery - is only $100 a week.

"It's every chef's dream to have their own garden," Guy said. "We're able to pick a leaf off here and there, and it keeps it fresh. It's a lot of hard work but the rewards are there."

The focus is on heirloom varieties, selected for their uniqueness and hardiness. "I'm always looking for weird or wonderful things to grow," Guy said.

That includes rice paddy herb, a water plant used predominately in Vietnamese dishes; Mexican coriander, which Guy uses with marron; and tromboncino, a type of squash.

"I love the tromboncino because we use everything - the tendrils, the flowers," Guy said. "We also let the radishes flower and use the pods, seeds and flowers in dishes. We try to not waste anything. We preserve, pickle or ferment."

Zucchini relish and preserved lemons are jarred and sold through the cellar door. Guy is also experimenting with making vinegar from surplus wine.

Carrots and beetroot come in a variety of colours and a few of the heirloom varieties have crossed to create a carrot that is white with purple skin.

The heirlooms proved themselves several years ago when Jarrahdale was hit by a month of frost - they toughed it out and very few were lost.

"They're so old, they just get stronger," Guy said. "They adapt to the environment and get tougher each year. The herbs are so much more powerful than the ones you buy at the supermarket."

But tomatoes are his speciality with a list of varieties to make any chef jealous, including broad ripple yellow current, black Russian, black crim, yellow perfection and green zebra.

"We always have success with tomatoes, corn and snake beans," Guy said. "We stagger crops like corn and beetroot, the tomatoes and zucchini just grow.

"We work around what's ready. I've always liked cooking different things."

The whole process, from paddock to plate, serves an educational purpose as well with apprentices learning about food and taking ownership of particular dishes.

In the cooler months, garden lunches are held where guests are invited into the garden to pick their own produce, which the chefs then prepare into meals.

_How does their garden grow? _

Most herbs and a lot of the vegetables are self-sown and Guy said rocket grew "virtually as a weed".

There is also an orchard with Japanese plums, an olive grove, mulberry trees, figs and lemons, along with other food-producing trees spotted around the property, and about 20 chooks that eat kitchen scraps and supply eggs.

Luckily, Guy said the soil was "outstanding" clay and supplemented by marc, a by-product of winemaking that includes the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. It helps by improving soil quality and water retention while reducing the need for fertilisers.

The vegetable garden is essentially organic, with Seasol applied once a month and dynamic lifter put down to improve soil structure. Weeds can be a problem but they are controlled by black plastic and Guy's imagination.

"Weeds are probably half of the job," he said. "But I use pigweed as a garnish, it's a type of purslane. A weed is just a plant growing somewhere you don't want it."

Pests such as rabbits and birds can also cause problems. "You lose a bit but there's always more in the basket," Guy said.

"There is a lot of timing and luck - you've got to know when to plant and when to harvest but you've also got to count on nature."

Vineyard manager and viticulturalist John Fogarty helps out in the garden, bringing all aspects of the 121-hectare estate together.

Produce not grown on the property, such as meat and cheese, is sourced locally and includes Amelia Park beef, Fremantle octopus, Baldivis rabbits, Plantagenet Pork. All meals are matched with Millbrook wines.

"My whole menu is designed around what's in the garden," Guy said. "Everything little thing we use, the whole ethos is about keeping it fresh. It's about getting back to basics."

It's every chef's dream to have their own garden. We're able to pick a leaf off here and there, and it keeps it fresh. Guy Jeffreys

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